Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Serious Man

A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers' latest film- not to be confused with A Single Man or with Solitary Man, also coming out this season- is a dark comedy set in the 1960's centering on Larry Gopnik, a mathematics and physics professor trying to cope with his rapidly deteriorating life. To say that things are falling apart is an understatement.

His wife decides to leave him and during an intervention with Larry and her new lover (the "serious man" from the title no less), explains to him that it would be best if he moved into a motel although she admits he has done nothing wrong. In addition, he has trouble at work with a Korean student who is trying to bribe him, looming financial woes, a brother who has moved in with the family and gets into major legal trouble, a son who seems like all he enjoys is smoking pot and only calls him to fix the TV or radio, and a daughter who just wants to go to clubs and wash her hair.

Larry is plagued by existential issues of wondering why all of this is happening to him and seeks help from three different rabbis. Why is "Hashem" (God) doing this to him? He is a good man. Why does Hashem think he deserves this? Larry is tormented. He is a smart man but clearly nothing is working out for him in life. He turns to Judaism for solutions and answers but finds no solace.

Larry's troubles are morbidly humorous and definitely bizarre as one would expect from the Coens. The opening scene of the movie is probably the weirdest of all- a prologue entirely in Yiddish shows a husband and wife arguing over whether their evening visitor is a man or an evil spirit, or "Dybbuk!!!" (you have to see it to understand). Throughout the film there are many scenes showing Jewish traditions and rituals, most are portrayed with irony and showcase a lot of neuroticism. One can imagine that the Coens lived through some of these moments themselves and that this is in more ways than one autobiographical, a return to the roots.

Although the movie raises some interesting philosophical and theological issues, I enjoyed it a lot less than Burn After Reading which I thought was laugh out loud funny, or No Country for Old Men whose extremely impressive acting, haunting score and uniqueness are no match to Serious Man. This movie has its fair share of absurd, amusing, off beat and tragic moments but it failed to captivate me. There is also no closure at the end which bothered Fabio more than it did me. I think it meant that life simply goes on but unfortunately I wasn't interested enough to really dwell on it.

My rating: 7
Fabio's: 6
Total score: 13

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately the Coen brothers always come up with the same idea: Bad things happen to people who are limited-intellectually, financially, physically. But what an unexpected and funny opening scene!!!!